Soggy Summer in North Europe Delays Grain for Region’s Beer

Soggy Summer in Northern Europe Delays Grain for Region’s Beer
Beer drinkers in the Canary Wharf business and shopping district in London. Photographer: Matthew Lloyd/Bloomberg

Torrential rains that lashed northern Europe since last month delayed crop development from the U.K. to Sweden, threatening to erode the quality of grains used in the region’s beer, whiskey and vodka.

Rain in the U.K. and Ireland that topped records in June have persisted through July, with parts of England receiving a month’s worth of precipitation in a two-week period, according to their national weather forecasters. The barley harvest in Germany, the European Union’s biggest beer producer and consumer, was interrupted last week as rain made some fields inaccessible, farm lobby Deutscher Bauernverband said.

Lack of sun and soggy conditions have slowed the maturation of wheat and barley plants in the U.K. to about 10 days behind the normal pace, said Charlotte Garbutt of the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board. The weather in the next four weeks will be “crucial” for crop development, Irish Brewers Association senior executive Thomas Burke said in an e-mail.

“Beer does require certain consistent and high quality ingredients from farmers,” said Pierre-Olivier Bergeron, secretary general of The Brewers of Europe, a Brussels-based trade group representing the makers of 90 percent of the EU’s beer. “The brewer may have to work harder to source his ingredients this year.”

Malting Barley

The global benchmark price of wheat has rallied 43 percent since mid-June on the Chicago Board of Trade as the worst U.S. drought in 56 years sapped grain and oilseed crops. In Paris, malting barley for November delivery is up 20 percent to 270 euros ($332) a metric ton on NYSE Liffe.

While areas of southern and eastern Europe contend with dry weather, conditions are “overly wet” further west, the EU’s crop forecasting unit wrote in a July 23 report. The French government cut its condition rating last week for soft wheat crops in the northern region of Picardie, the country’s second-biggest growing area. The U.K., which has experienced sunnier weather this week, may see rain return by tomorrow, with heaviest totals in the southeast, the Met Office forecast.

Stockholm had the wettest June on record since 1786 while temperatures across Sweden, Europe’s biggest vodka exporter, were the coldest for the month since 1991, according to the Swedish Meteorological and Hydrological Institute in Norrkoping. This month, some areas had 200 percent of the normal amount of rain through July 24.

Absolut Vodka

The heaviest rains missed the country’s Skane region, where the winter wheat used in Pernod-Ricard SA’s Absolut vodka is grown, said Elin Wibell, a spokeswoman for the company in Stockholm.

“Lack of sun has delayed the harvest a bit,” Wibell said in an e-mail July 23. “The region where we get our winter wheat has been spared from the heavy rains. The heavy rains and flooding was further north in the region of Blekinge.”

Rains have caused more damage to spring crops including barley, said Erik Hartman, the secretary-general of the Swedish Feed and Grain Association in Stockholm. Some fields are suffering from fusarium, a fungus that can cut yields, he said.

“In the middle part of Sweden the rain has been heavy, and spring crops are not looking good at all,” Hartman said by telephone July 18. “We are a few weeks before the harvest so quite a lot can happen, both in a positive and negative direction.”


EU soft wheat production may total 93.8 million tons this year, down from 94.7 million a year earlier, farm lobby Coceral said June 29. Barley output was pegged at almost 43 million tons, up from 41.7 million tons a year earlier.

Leuven, Belgium-based Anheuser-Busch InBev NV, the world’s biggest brewer, is “monitoring the situation very closely,” Karen Couck, a spokeswoman for the company, said by e-mail July 23. While the company does “not expect a significant impact for AB InBev overall,” the wet weather situation “varies zone by zone,” she said.

It’s still too early to know if rains will affect barley used in Scotland’s whiskey, said Rosemary Gallagher, a spokeswoman for the Edinburgh-based Scotch Whisky Association. The U.K. is Europe’s biggest whiskey producer and exporter, according to Eurostat, the EU’s statistics office.

“The industry monitors conditions and is in regular contact with relevant organizations, such as farmers and malsters,” she said by e-mail on July 18.

The U.K.’s wheat harvest typically starts in early August, while some barley in southern areas of the country has already being collected “under quite wet conditions,” said Garbutt, a senior analyst at the AHDB’s grain unit in Kenilworth, England.

“Crops really needed some sunshine to get through the harvest and fill the grain, and obviously we’re not seeing enough of that,” Garbutt said by telephone July 18. “It’s created a lot of uncertainty.”

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